The ability to nurture a shared purpose with individual customers is the bread and butter of successful businesses today.
Specifically, it is not enough to do something for customers anymore; businesses must develop strategies that create opportunities to do things with them.
How do you do that? One mechanism to help identify and bond with customers and partners is through unified communications technologies.
As management consultant Mark Bonchek noted in a piece for the Harvard Business Review, companies should start with a deep dive into current customer relationships and practices. “As you formulate your shared purpose, don’t go for what you think it should be,” he suggests. “Look for who you already are — how you already connect with your customers.”
From there, Bonchek, founder of business consulting firm Orbit, advises nurturing commonalities of purpose and shared values to create closer, more successful and, typically, longer-lasting business partnerships.
Perhaps the first step toward cultivating this shared purpose should be for a business to take stock and better understand the sophisticated communications technologies at its disposal. Most will discover these tools are already helping them nourish shared purposes with some or all of their employees and the customers they serve.
Unified Inside and Out
Specifically, I am speaking of the diverse technologies that fall under the rubric of unified communications. UC is a solution umbrella for platforms that combine real-time communications tools (IP telephony, instant messaging, video conferencing, interactive whiteboards) and non-real-time tools (email, fax, voicemail, SMS), with presence information that conveys user status (away, offline, available, location, on a call).
UC is a powerful communications model that reduces costs and simplifies management, which is why more companies are using it to interconnect employees, partners and customers.
A 2013 SpiceWorks survey of about 250 IT managers reports that nearly a fifth of SMBs have already rolled out a UC solution. Respondents, meanwhile, indicate that number will double over the next year. These findings dovetail with another recent survey of IT pros by IT education company Webtorials, which finds 21 percent of companies have fully implemented UC, while 57 percent have done so at least in part.
Chances are, your business is already using some UC elements to increase productivity and become more synergistic.
When executives give a presentation using Cisco WebEx or collaborate virtually through Citrix GoToMeeting, they are using UC tools to strengthen bonds. The same is true when they video conference with a client over Skype, illustrate a point on a virtual whiteboard, record an important conference call or have a voicemail on their Voice over IP phone system automatically sent to their email inbox. In all these cases, UC technology serves as a means for connection and collaboration and — by extension — as a platform by which a business nurtures conversations and shared purposes.
This is the lesson business leaders should share with employees. People need to understand that UC tools are more than just a means to exchange facts and figures or even to collaborate in the strictest sense of the word. They are also about engaging and embracing partners and customers to innovate and serve an overarching strategic agenda. They are a means to discovering what shared purposes can grow from these relationships.
“Remember, this is not something you are going to do to them, or for them, but with them,” Bonchek notes. “It’s a journey you will be on together, hopefully for a very long time.”